Swims with turtles, burns in the sun at Mantabuan Island

Posted: June 3, 2011 in Malaysia
Tags: , , , , ,

Having opted to avoid the long and costly journey to Flores in Indonesia for the Komodo trip, we used some of the freed time to sample the island delights of Semporna. We left Sukau on 31st May with a few nagging doubts about our chances of getting on the bus; other tourists had warned that booking in advance was required due to the busy routes from Sandakan and KK. Our taxi driver (you have to head out for 30mins from Sukau town to find the junction with the main road) reassured us by phoning his contacts and ensuring there were spare seats. With one of those rare twists of luck, we waited only 25mins for the bus and it was modern, clean, relatively comfortable with good A/C, the luxury of a toilet and on-board DVD system to kill the time. The planets were aligned.

We’d be warned that Semporna town was a dump but first impressions were better than anticipated. It’s not a beauty but we’ve both seen and stayed in far worse. I hadn’t realised that the resort I had booked was offshore so we had to take a 15min boat ride out to Singamata. It’s not often you arrive somewhere and instantly love it but Singamata is one of those places. We were greeted at the jetty by a wonderfully friendly Filipino staff and invited to sit down and relax in the restaurant area. The resort is built on stilts above the shallows that surround the coral reef. Though at least 3km from the mainland and about 1km from the nearest island, the water is no more than 3m deep and crystal clear. There are 360° views of turquoise sea and islands.

We were shown to our room in C Block, a short stroll along a wooden walkway that connects all the buildings. It is a truly stunning place; basic yet comfortable, as peaceful and removed from the stresses of life as you can get. Although it’s a diving resort, the instructors are down to earth and there is no clique issue. It’s a touch more expensive that other resorts but the 100MR (£20) per person per day includes all meals. The buffets meals are excellent with a good choice of fresh, well-cooked food. You even get baked beans for breakfast! Superb value for money all round.

Singamata Resort, Semporna, Borneo

To the aquarium brother

We wasted no time shedding the sweat rags to embrace our attire for the next 2 days; swimming shorts. Having picked up our free-to-use snorkel kit, we made our way to the house aquarium, an enclosed space between the walkways that is used for diving skills training. The aquarium has a decent selection of bloody huge fish, from Groupers to Barracuda, and all guests are free to use it.

We jumped in and set about swimming with the big boys. There were 2 enormous Grouper fish, probably over half the length of my body (go on then, gags about them only being a few inches etc). I’ve never swum with any fish that big before so it was a nice experience, though not truly wild. I was settling into the calm of snorkeling when I felt something stinging my stomach. I knew there were no jellyfish in the aquarium, so looked down and then freaked out a little. Stuck to my stomach was a large (about 2ft) shark-like fish nibbling away at my skin. I hadn’t expected to see that, so thrashed about wildly trying to push it away. The cheeky little bugger wouldn’t take no for an answer and followed a little too eagerly. Finally I escaped my fishy nemesis and then went and found the bro. He had shared the same experience and from then on, whenever we tried to get back in the water sharkboy emerged from the darkness to tease us. Eventually, though the fish was not dangerous, the annoyance factor drove us out into the open sea. There the snorkeling was ok but nothing to get excited about. The highlight was the multi-coloured starfish clinging to the seabed.

Bro gets hunted by the sharkfishthing

Paradise found at Mantabuan Island

We pre-booked a day’s snorkeling trip for Wednesday 1st June and joined in with a diving party. Alas for bro we couldn’t get a Sipadan permit (widely accepted as one of the best dive sites in the world and only 120 people can visit each day so permits are like gold dust), so we went on the boat to Mantabuan Island, about 45mins boat ride from Singamata. Our fellow trippers were a nice bunch, mainly Malay though a couple of Asian-American girls were on board to ensure that everything in the world was “awesome”.

The day centred around Mantabuan Island, a beautiful Robinson Crusoe number encircled by bright sandy beaches and extensive coral shelves and shallows. The reef was very good with a nice variety of colours and sea life.

Mantabuan Island, Semporna

The highlight of the day was a solo swimming session with green turtles. The turtles here are more skittish than those in The Philippines and have become wary of humans thanks to a few idiots insisting on grabbing hold of them and scaring them. Now if you get close, they disappear quickly to the depths. Having seen only glimpses during the morning, I was on the boat and Si in the water when one of the Malay chaps spotted 4 turtles swimming past the boat. I kitted-up swiftly and leaped in; moments later I was swimming about 5ft above 3 turtles, gliding gracefully in the aquamarine water. The sun was shining down at the perfect angle to illuminate their shells. Bro emerged moments later telling me he had swum alongside a huge male turtle and I managed a brief glimpse before it journeyed deeper.

On the way home, Si spotted a huge turtle about 30m from the boat. It was playing on the surface, splashing around with its fins, a fitting end to the trip. We had a lucky day with the turtles and saw 8 in total. They might just be my favourite sea creatures.

If you find yourself in Semporna, book a stay at Singamata Adventures and Diving; we wish we could have stayed longer.

Love jamer & bro senior x

  1. Muneeza says:

    wow the place looks amazing, wish I was still out there too. x

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